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The Pentagon Papers And Barack Obama: Daniel Ellsberg, John Dean, And The Needed Politics Of Whistleblowing


On Tuesday morning, I tuned in as I have been for several days to my new muzak, Free Form BCN (on line at WBCN.com) a new around the chock commercial-free rock-based music stream capturing the spirit and style of the radio station that I worked for back in the 70′s, a station that had recently been shut down to be replaced by a sports talk hub by CBS which now owns the station and killed it.

As I was grooving to the music, listening to songs I haven’t heard in years like Peter Tosh’s "Legalize It,"  I thought of the news I first "dissected" back in the day when the Vietnam War and Watergate consumed our passions and rage in the same way that the crimes of the Busheviks emotionally (and in some cases) physically tortured a later generation.

Those memories are deeply embedded so I felt compelled to go Tuesday night to the New York Ethical Culture Society to hear a conversation between two historic whistleblowers of the era,  Daniel Ellsberg and John Dean. The former had by then become an outsider while the latter was still an insider.  Both turned on the Nixon Administration but in a way shared a destiny they were to discover last night.

Both were also ghosts from my past, part of the drama of some pretty exciting times,  older, grayer but no less articulate. The event, which should have drawn a  larger crowd on New York’s upper left side, was sponsored by the Open Society Institute.

The event was part of a promotion for a new documentary,  "The Most Dangerous Man In America," Tricky Dick’s description of Daniel Ellsberg who found, stole, copied (with Tony Russo)  and then released the Pentagon Papers, a 7000 page top secret Defense Department history of the war which showed in great detail how the government lied to the American people over DECADES. It was published after a major  free press case was won in the Supreme Court. The lawyer for the New York Times then, Floyd Abrams just represented the interests that want big corporations today to be able to pour more money into politics and buy what they don’t yet own.

What a shonda!

The movie opens in New York and elsewhere soon. The clips of the film were quite good and I caught a glimpse of my own  hand and the radio microphone that I used to interview him on the day he was indicted at the Federal Court House in Fpley Square, Boston. My namesake Dan recognized me right away and was very warm during our all too brief reunion.

The first question to the honored guests was the relevance of this story so many years later. Ellsberg talked about all the bombs that were dropping in the film–he said the real number was more than SEVEN MILLION, twice  the amount dropped in World War 2. He said he believed a similar onslought is underway today in a war which we cannot win in Afghanistan.

I was suprised when he conceded there was some legitimacy to the the US intervention there as opposed to Iraq and Vietnam, although he believes that the Generals who fought and lost in Vietnam now believe they can do it right this time and win by bombing Afghanistan. He said the drones are what is different even if the slaughter of innocents is not, and wondered aloud if anyone has ever been jailed for murdering people from 30,000 feet.

On the basis of 30 years of study, of the Pentagon Papers and other documents at the Rand Corporation and Pentagon, and on the basis of his two tours as Marine in Vietnam, Dan Ellsberg believes  there is a permanent national security state that "captures" politicians like Barack Obama.

John Dean seemed to agree and pointed to  reforms that Obama embraced before taking office and now has many "second thoughts" about. This has led to back-sliding on various "national Security" reforms in the areas of government surveillance, release of torture videos, freedom of information, accountability, transparency etc.

These guys had seen it all before and now say they say they are seeing it again.

There were a few revelations. The first was Ellsberg’s belief that the break-in in his shrink, Dr. Fielding’s office in LA by Nixon’s "plumbers" was not to retrieve information about Vietnam or any hidden top secrets but to find incriminating information that could be used to blackmail him. He explained how common the use of blackmail was in the years in which he was a soldier and then a policy advisor!

Blackmail?  Hmmmm…. I thought to myself. Could the powercrats, the establishment, the Generals,  The CIA, the military-industrial-media complex, the permanent government have something on Obama to keep him in line, dark secrets that could really discredit him should they come out, not just in an embarrassing way but revelations that could drive him from office?

There has been alot of worry recently about assassination threats on the President, but character assassination is almost as effective.  That’s been the right’s strategy since the campaign with guilt by association and other smears common. Don’t think they will give up on tactics that work to erode support and weaken an adversaries capacity to fight back. They have media assets and lots of money to play with.  Look at what just happened to Van Jones and is happening to Mark Lloyd and ACORN? Does race have anything to do with it? 

Is the sky sometimes blue?

Is Obama in danger of something similar? Could that explain why he seems to have gone in like a lion and now seems to be lying down like a lamb, slowing down the promised "withdrawal" from Iraq before actually sending more troops and contractors in. Ditto for Afghanistan. Dropping the public option etc. etc. etc?

Could he be a marked man, and hence, dancing with the "stars" of the cold war cabal, embracing Bush policies, going soft on Wall Street? Why is there so much continuity between his democracy destroying predecessor and his "Yes We Can Change We Can Believe In" Administration?  Is it just inexperience or is their fear, covert intimidation and bullying in the mix that we don’t know about? Are there Obama Papers stashed in some secret vault waiting to be revealed?

Think about some deep dark secret in his past that keeps him up at night and talking left but moving right? Am I paranoid,  or is this not the way these things are "DONE" in a DC so dominated with corporate cash, covert strongmen, slimy lobbyists and well practiced  spin doctors?  Remember it’s not just the right that is on his ass but the greedsters or the corporate world–the FIRE boys (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate) as well as the military industry contractors that are determined to keep him in line to keep their profits up.

They are telling him that his only salvation is a rising market; let us do our thing, and you can do yours. Don’t mess up, man, just capitulate. Thank you for your service.

The second revelation was that Ellsberg was convinced Nixon was determined to win the war with more massive bombing,  and had set April 15 (Tax Day) 1973 as a day for renewed bombing to begin with the pretext/claim that the North Vietnamese had violated the Paris Peace Agreement. It takes a violator to know one!

But then, just by a coincidence of history, that was very day that White House lawyer John Dean decided to spill his guts to Congress on high crimes undertaken by the White House including the break-in at Dr. Fieldings office. Dean said that though he did not know Ellsberg, he felt he was being unfairly persecuted and decided to speak up.

Ellsberg said last night that Dean’s courage did what the Pentagon Papers and the anti-war movement couldn’t do–got the bombing called off, and starting us on the road to Watergate that drove Nixon from office,  and soon thereafter, ended the war. (Or, more accurately allowed the Vietnamese to end it.)

Wow. That was historical dynamite.

So, go see the film if you can,  and hope against hope that some new whistle blowers emerge to keep this Administration honest.

Yesterday Obama said he had still not decided on how many troops to send to Afghanistan. And guess what? Predictably, the engine of escalation is cranking up. Reports the NY Times: "The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, told Congress that success would also require much more time, a position challenged by a Democrat."

Talk about history repeating itself.

News Disector Danny Schechter blogs for Mediachannel.org. He has just written a book and made a film about the financial crisis as a crime story. Comments to Dissector@mediachannel.org

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